Political Transformation and Inclusion critical for building peace in Nepal

Aug 17, 2009

Political Transformation and Inclusion critical for building peace in Nepal

Kathmandu, Monday, 17 August 2009: - Today Nepal is in transition from conflict to peace and from authoritarian rule to democracy and has the chance to redefine both the nation and the state. It is an opportunity for political 'transformation', to root out age old practices by ensuring equality, justice and greater voice for excluded groups. Deepening democracy and strengthening the rule of law are critical in order to give peace a chance of success', says the new 2009 Nepal Human Development Report launched in Kathmandu today.

The 2009 Nepal Human Development Report, titled 'State transformation and human development' examines the relationship between inclusion, peace and human development. The report suggests that democracy, fair representation and effective participation are the tools for ending discrimination.

Launching the Report, Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Yubaraj Khatiwada said, 'Following the Comprehensive Peace Accord, the Government of Nepal has already launched inclusive political and socio-economic programmes to make a prosperous, modern and just Nepal. The current government has adopted common minimum programmes which include the strengthening of the national economy adhering to the principle of people 'oriented welfare state with high economic growth and distributive justice as the twin principles with the close collaboration of the state with cooperatives and the private sector.'

The April 2006 popular movement and uprising in Nepal was based on a demand for peace, democracy and progress. Denial or delay in fair representation and equal participation in power sharing risks a relapse into conflict. The Comprehensive Peace Accord has advanced inclusive, progressive and democratic restructuring of the State in order to address the problems related to women, Dalit, Janajati, Madhesi, oppressed, neglected and minority communities, and backward regions by ending discrimination based on class, caste, language, gender, culture, religion and region

Getting the peace process right

Today Nepal struggles with the legacy of ten years of conflict in which 13,347 people have died and 1,027 have disappeared, while countless others were raped, dispossessed or displaced. Dealing with a divided past is fundamental to building the peace.

According to the Report the underlying causes of conflict have not been resolved, nor have most of the consequences of the conflict. Poverty and discrimination on the basis of caste and ethnicity continue. These are among the grievances that are associated with the conflict. Ineffective government, internally displaced people and frustrated combatants are some of the outcomes of conflict and these have yet to be tackled.

At the height of the conflict an estimated 200,000 people in Nepal fled their homes in fear. Some 50,000 to 70,000 are thought to be still displaced. Many are still fearful of their security. The restoration of the rule of law is among the primary concerns. There can be no peace without justice and no justice without the rule of law.

The Report suggests that care must be taken to ensure the participation and representation of different groups in the peace process. Another important part of the strategy would be to develop and implement a social reintegration plan that includes the rehabilitation of disqualified Maoist personnel and internally displaced people. Finally participatory constitution-making is a must to foster nation building.

Human development in Nepal

Nepal ranked last among five South Asian countries, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on the human development index (HDI) in the 2007/2008 global Human Development Report. The HDI ranks countries on their human development attainments on three key indicators: life expectancy, literacy and income. Nepal's low ranking is largely because of lower per capita income as a consequence of low economic growth, particularly since 2001, because of the increased intensity of conflict in Nepal.

Although on aggregate there have been human development gains in Nepal ' the HDI value went up from .471 in 2001 to .509 in 2006 -- the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged regions and caste or ethnic groups is widening or remains the same. This means that power relations have not changed significantly since the restoration of democracy in 1990. Among the 15 ' 49 years age group, the literacy rates for Dalit women are 34.8 percent and for Dalit men these are 59.9 percent compared to 68.6 percent and 92.8 percent for Brahmin and Chettri women and men respectively. Similarly the survival chances of under-five children of dalits, marginalized, indigenous peoples and Muslim communities are significantly lower than children born in advantaged castes.

Speaking at the launch of the Nepal HDR UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Robert Piper pointed out 'Successive Human Development Reports have documented Nepal's profoundly uneven development patterns. Today's report indicates these patterns remain largely intact despite important progress on a number of nation-wide indicators. The message in this report is that the 'absence of war' will alone neither assure a lasting peace nor deliver prosperity. Nepal's ambitious post-conflict transformation must successfully address centuries of discrimination and exclusion so these patterns are broken for ever.'

Inclusion for equity and justice

'Fair representation and effective participation is necessary for the transformation of the state. Among others, this can be achieved when the political parties are inclusive in their make-up and transparent in their decision making, when the electoral system provides an opportunity to enable the poor and excluded to represent in the political system, and when the federal structure is accompanied by supplementary constitutional devises based on the principles of justice and equity,' says the lead author Mr. Bishwa Nath Tiwari.

In the past power has been centralized in Kathmandu and has been in the hands of the upper caste hills people, the Brahmans and Chhetris' leaving close to two-thirds of the population out. Traditionally women, Dalits, indigenous groups (Janajatis) and those living in the plains (Madhesis) have largely been excluded from access to basic services and have little or no voice in decisions that affect them.

The Report argues that ensuring the rights of the poor and the excluded calls for changes in policies and laws and their proper enforcement. This requires the representation of excluded groups in the legislature so that they can participate in the framing of policies and laws, that their voices are heard in the execution of these policies and that they have prompt and equitable access to the judicial system.

Female participation in Parliament has jumped to 33 percent in the 2008 Constituent assembly elections from a low of 5 percent in the 1999 election; thanks to a 33 percent quota for women. This was possible thanks to a positive policy intervention. However, a 2005 study of discriminatory state policies quoted in the Report found 32 provisions that discriminate on the basis of religion, caste and ethnicity while 176 provisions in 83 pieces of legislations discriminate against women.

To eliminate exclusion, increase participation and improve the quality of people's lives the Report calls for political' transformation' in Nepal through:

Reform of the political system: Review and devise a mixed electoral system that is right for Nepal. A combination of first-past-the-post and proportional representation that will give all caste and ethnic groups including the excluded ones a fair chance would need careful thought to make it equitable says the Report. Another important step is the democratization of political parties. For instance, through proportional representation 335 seats in the 601 member constituent assembly are reserved for different castes, ethnic groups and excluded region. However, the legal framework allows a small group of leaders within each political party to select 'winners' leaving voters little choice but to vote for parties, not candidates.

A federal system for social justice, inclusion and participation: The third amendment of the Interim Constitution of Nepal says that Nepal will be a federal state which will end discrimination and exclusion between different cultural and social groups between the regions.

Federalism has both merits and limitations. It can increase the political representation and participation of the people and the regions to bring governance closer to the people; thereby enhancing the accountability of the service providers, improving access to services and promoting multi-cultural environment and diversity.

However, federalism is not the panacea for all problems. It has its own limitations. It cannot protect the interest of all 103 castes and ethnic groups even if there is ethnicity based federation. Therefore, federalism has to be supplemented with other supplementary constitutional devices to protect the interest of the poor and excluded. Federalism is likely to succeed only where there is established tradition of democracy and rule of law.

'By broadening and deepening democracy Nepal can meet the expectations and aspirations of its people torn apart by years of conflict,' says the Report.

'Will the peace process deliver a human development outcome' Nepal bas been at historic junctures of social and political change before and has learned the hard way that such an outcome is by no means assured. Today's report provides invaluable compass headings and advice for Nepal's leaders and public as they work through the difficult decisions and choices ahead,' added UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Robert Piper.

Note on the NHDR: The 2009 Nepal HDR is the fourth in a series of national Human Development Reports that have provided analytical frameworks for Nepal's attainments on key human development indicators and the challenges that the country faces in improving the quality of life of its people.

The report has been prepared at the oversight of a 19-member Steering Committee, with the technical inputs and feedback received from a 32-member Advisory Committee. Members drawn for these two committees were from diverse organisations representing the government ministries, Bureau of Statistics, academia, and several other INGOs and civil society organisations including those of women groups and other excluded groups.

The participatory approach was followed since the start of the identification of the theme of the report. Views of various groups including women, excluded caste and ethic groups and people with disabilities have been solicited organizing several discussions.

Contact information

For more information please contact Sangita Khadka at sangita.khadka@undp.org,
Development Communications Officer, UNDP Nepal, 00-977-1-5523200 ext. 1077 or mobile: 00 977 98510 81114

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